“Don’t ‘high-pressure’ girls into entering your [nursing] school,” advised George R. Wren in the November 1951 issue of Hospitals magazine. “If the girl is not accepted this may easily result in disappointed applicants and bad hospital public relations. It may also result in an abnormally high withdrawal rate when the ‘high pressure’ and glamour wear off.”
In the 1950s, nursing was one of the few professions school girls were encouraged to aspire to. And while the work was physically and emotionally demanding, the hours long and the shifts variable, nurses did get to wear crisp white uniforms, white hats and capes (all of which they purchased themselves). And they could earn a steady salary, anywhere between $30 and $50 a week.
Whether or not that constituted a kind of “glamour,” the fact was that too few young women were choosing to go into nursing. With the return of the GIs following World War II, the majority were opting for marriage and motherhood, and in the 1950s, that mostly meant foregoing a career outside the home.
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Wren had been administrative resident of Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis in 1948 when that hospital, like most others across the nation, was suffering from a critical shortage of nurses. In response, he and his colleagues launched an intensive student nurse recruitment campaign. The campaign was a big success, filling classes to capacity at his hospital’s school of nursing. In the Hospitals’ article, he shared several Dos and Don’ts gleaned from the experience. Here are a few of them:
“DO have some money to run your recruitment program.” Wren pointed out that the total cost of the Indiana Methodist plan was a hefty $7,000 over two-and-a-half years, or about $62 for every student recruited by the program.
“DON’T appeal to girls on a purely emotional basis.” He advised nursing school personnel to avoid telegrams, special delivery letters and personal telephone calls that stress society’s or the hospital’s tremendous need for nurses. Otherwise, Wren wrote, “how can she, her parents or her friends understand if the school does not select her as a student?”
“DO keep adequate and complete records.” Wren’s organization conscientiously maintained three sets of three-by-five cards on all prospective students, filed alphabetically, by year of graduation and by locality.
“DO have a logical follow-up on student prospects.” Wren urged schools to “write to the prospect immediately on receipt of her name even if she is only a high school freshmen.” Contact her again during her senior year and following graduation, he counseled. “Getting a prospect’s name is the first step; proper follow-up secures the girl for your school.”